University and College Union threatens strike over pension scheme

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Image description: protestors at the University of Leeds during the 2018 UCU pension strike

The University and College Union (UCU) may go on strike next autumn if 69 universities, including the University of Oxford, do not agree to make changes to their pension scheme. In April, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) raised the required contributions of members from 8% to 8.8%. Under the current plan, this contribution will increase to 10.4% starting in October 2019 and then 11.7% in April 2020.

UCU, which represents university employees, sent a letter to the vice-chancellors of the universities that belong to the USS and recognise the union, stating that the institutions must lower members’ contributions back to eight percent. UCU gave the vice-chancellors a deadline of 19th June to agree to their demands, announcing that if they refuse to comply, the union intends to hold a vote on a strike ballot in September.

The most recent valuation of the USS, conducted in 2017, contends that members and employers need to contribute an additional £900 per year to maintain the scheme. Universities UK (UUK), which is negotiating on behalf of the USS, has suggested three potential plans, but all involve increasing the contributions of members, which UCU rejects. The USS raised pension contributions from employers to 19.5% of salary starting in April, and plans to increase them to 22.5% in October 2019 and 24.9% in April 2020.

Paul Bridge, UCU head of higher education, stated on 7th June: “We hope universities will respond positively to our request and we can focus our efforts on addressing concerns over the governance of USS and the need to develop a valuation method that people can have confidence in. If universities fail to respond positively then we will have no option but to start planning for a strike ballot.”

A spokesman for UUK said: “We continue to seek a solution to the current valuation that is acceptable to The Pensions Regulator, USS Trustee, scheme members and employers.”

In 2018, UCU staff went on strike at 64 universities across the country, including Oxford, over proposed changes to the pension scheme, resulting in UUK retracting its proposal.

Image credit: Alarichall